One of the most under-rated players of the 1970's, Dutch forward Rob Rensenbrink had a bit of everything in his game.
An intelligent left footer with a fantastic touch, he was tall enough to be used as a traditional centre forward yet possessed a great dribbling
technique that meant he could also play out wide, where he was more than capable of leaving 2 or 3 defenders bamboozled in his wake.
He probably wasn't as good a finisher as
strike partner Johny Rep, but his overall game was better - his movement off the ball was excellent, often baffling
the opposition with some of his runs and ability to find space. It's hard to believe he didn't reach 50 caps for the national team,
and this is often put down to the fact that he left Holland to play in Belgium for almost his entire career, and that in the
early 1970's the 'Royal Pair' of Cruyff and Piet Keizer was the preferred option up front for de Oranje.
Rensenbrink started out with Amsterdam club Door Wilskracht Sterk (DWS for short) who, although now an amateur club, were
a genuine force back in the 60's and at the time of Rensenbrink joining them had only just been crowned Eredivisie champions.
He soon began to make a name for himself with DWS and after only a couple of seasons with the first team he'd been called up to the
national team by then manager Georg Kessler, making his debut in the goal-less draw against Scotland in 1968.
With many of the other top Dutch clubs sniffing around him and mulling over a deal it was a big surprise when he agreed to
be transferred over the border into Belgium, for a two year stint with Club Brugge. The Belgian outfit had only won the championship
once in it's history but were ambitious and saw the young Rensenbrink as a key player to help them break the 10 year stranglehold
of Anderlecht and Standard Liege. It nearly worked - Rensenbrink's ratio of a goal every other game fired them to the runners-up
spot in 1970 and 1971 but also alerted the attention of bigger clubs. Expected to move back to his native Holland,
Rensenbrink surprised everyone again by staying put in Belgium and transferring to Brussels' giants Anderlecht. He would become
a legend at the Parc Astrid, forming a great understanding with a number of similarly attack-minded players, notably Belgian
midfield duo Ludo Coeck and Paul Van Himst and Hungarian striker Attila Ladynski. Rensenbrink's goals and flair brought the
title back to Brussels at the end of his first season there and then again two years later.
The 1974 World Cup in West Germany was Rensenbrink's first international tournament appearance. Up until then Rensenbrink
had played second fiddle to Ajax striker Piet Keizer, who'd been Cruyff's strike partner both domestically and internationally.
However, arguments between Cruyff and Keizer had led, amongst other reasons, to Cruyff transferring to Barcelona, and coach
Rinus Michels decided that rather than pair-up two forwards who were hardly speaking, he would play a three-pronged attack with
Rensenbrink and young Ajax striker Johny Rep aiding Cruyff, who was effectively given a free hand to weave his magic as he saw
fit, anywhere across the front line. It started well enough with Rep scoring twice in the opener against Uruguay.
Dissapointingly though for Rensenbrink, Keizer was brought back in for the next game against Sweden at his expense,
but an ineffectual performance by the Ajax man saw Rensenbrink return to the fold in the final group game against Bulgaria
Rensenbrink responded with a man of the match performance as the Dutch eased through to the 2nd stage of group matches with
a 4:1 victory. From that game until the final the Rensenbrink-Cruyff-Rep partnership was in full flow, with a 4:0 demolition
of Argentina, followed by Rensenbrink's first tournament goal in the 2:0 win over East Germany. With no semi-finals
taking place the final group game was in effect a decider as both Holland and holders Brazil went into the game with two
victories each. A classy Dutch performance saw them through as winners, but at a cost - Rensenbrink substituted because of
a leg injury just after Cruyff had scored the second. Rensenbrink,Cruyff and Rep had proved so effective that Michels was loathe
to change it and after some intensive physio Michels decided to gamble and play Rensenbrink from the start. It didn't pay off
though, a struggling Rensenbrink had to be substituted at half-time by Rene van de Kerkhof, and the Dutch attack lacked
the cutting edge that had been so prominent throughout the rest of the tournament.
Back on the domestic front, Rensenbrink agreed to stay at Anderlecht, despite overtures from a number of top European clubs
who had been impressed with his contribution at the World Cup. Strangely though, despite bolstering the team with
the likes of Rensenbrink's international team-mate Arie Haan and talented youngsters such as
Franky Vercauteren and Francois Van der Elst, Rensenbrink and Anderlecht wouldn't win another title during his remaining time there,
although they would famously appear in three Cup Winners Cup finals in a row, winning two of them in 1976 and 1978, along
with two European Super Cup triumphs over much-heralded Bayern Munich and Liverpool sides. Rensenbrink scored goals in all four
of these finals, and had a fantastic pedigree in European competitions for Anderlecht, firing 30 goals in just 43 matches for
1978 saw Rensenbrink head to Argentina for his second World Cup tournament. The national team were now under the helm
of Ernst Happel, and whilst the team had lost the services of Johann Cruyff (various suggestions as to why he
wasn't going) and Jan van Hanagem the rest of the Dutch legends from the 70's were assembled for one last assault on winning a trophy.
Without Cruyff, there was added pressure on Rensenbrink and Johny Rep to do the business up front, assisted
this time by Rene van der Kerkhof.
Rensenbrink got off to a flier at the start of the tournament, scoring a hat-trick in the opener against Iran, two of which
were tucked away from the penalty spot as he'd taken over the duties from Johann Neeskens.
A goal-less draw against a decent Peru team featuring the likes of Cubillas, Chumpitaz and Oblitas meant that the Dutch
looked clear favourites to make the second group phase, even a narrow defeat against an under-performing Scotland
team would take them through. Another Rensenbrink penalty put the Dutch one up (it was also notable for being the 1,000th goal
in World Cup history), but two quick goals either side of half-time,
followed by that Archie Gemmill wonder goal put the Scots in dreamland and Rensenbrink and his team-mates on the verge
of an early exit. With 22 minutes left another Scottish goal would, incredibly, take them through, but
Rep's phenomenal strike clawed them back and they scraped through as runners-up on goal difference. The second phase of
group matches were much better, Rensenbrink scored another penalty, his 4th of the tournament, as they thrashed
Austria 5:1 in Cordoba. This was followed up with a classic ding-dong encounter with old foes West Germany, Rensenbrink
helped to set up Rene van der Kerkhof's fantastic late equaliser in a game that the Germans had led twice.
The Dutch, Italy and West Germany all went into the last game with a chance of making the final, with only Austria
out of the running. Suprisingly, the Austrians, inspired by Hans Krankl, would beat the Germans 3:2, leaving the door to
the final open to the winners of Holland's match with Italy in the Estadio Monumental. Italy went ahead in the first
half through an Ernie Brandts own goal, but the defender would make amends early in the 2nd half when he grabbed
the equaliser before Arie Haan lashed home one of his trademark thunderbolts to book Rensenbrink and co's place in
the final. So having gone into the tournament in a bit of a state - arguing over formations, money, and how many stripes
they were prepared to wear on their shirts (again), the Dutch now found themselves in a 2nd consecutive final. Yet, having
entertained the World again, they left with nothing. Kempes gave the Argentinians a first half lead, and they were only
eight minutes away from lifting the trophy before substitute Dick Nanninga equalised. Then came the agony for Rensenbrink -
played though by Ruud Krol in the dying seconds, he hit the post. And with that Holland's chance had slipped away.
Another Kempes goal, followed by one from Daniel Bertoni, handed the hosts the trophy.
Rensenbrink finished the tournament as the 2nd highest scorer, just behind Kempes, but if that last-minute shot had
gone in then people would talk of the Dutchman in the same way that they now talk of Kempes.
Rensenbrink would play for Holland in some of the qualifiers for the 1980 European Championships, but his last appearance
in that famous orange shirt would be a 2:0 defeat in Poland, midway through the qualifying campaign in 1979 as the great
70's team started to be dismantled. And having spent nearly ten years at Anderlecht, Rensenbrink finally left in 1980, joining
many other big European names for a quick winding down period in the States, Portland Timbers being his destination.
He returned to Europe in 1981 though, and during his short spell at French Ligue 2 club Toulouse, he helped them gain
promotion back to Ligue 1 for the first time since the club was re-formed back in 1970. It was a relatively low-key
way to end a career in which he should probably have earned more caps for the national team, and also more credit,
because when people talk about the
great Dutch team of the 70's, Rensenbrink, along with fellow forward Johny Rep and those midfield
Wim's van Hanegem and Jansen, are often overlooked because of the public's obsession with the genius of Johann Cruyff, and to
a lesser extent Johann Neeskens.
But the likes of Rensenbrink and Rep were fantastic players in their own right and deserve more acclaim for their roles
in that great team, particularly the Cruyff-less campaign of 1978.